Monday, May 30, 2011

In defense of anthropomorphism/pathetic fallacy

In an early critique of my rough draft (for which I am exceedingly grateful), the critic accuses my work of anthropomorphizing its subject and its writer for employing pathetic fallacy. The problem here is that she finds fault with my describing stones that "speak" and have "voices" and thinks I don't really mean to use anthropomorphism but, perhaps since I am still such an inchoate academic, I lack the experience/education to know not to use 'human' verbs when referring to 'objects'. Yet the papers is about the ability of stones to communicate, and it is my intent to use anthropomorphic language to describe the different ways stones communicate. I've been stressing about this matter a few days now, especially because I know that if this former instructor of mine finds fault with my use of pathetic fallacy, so too will many of the essay's readers (ie acceptance committees). However, if I don't use active verbs like "mutter" or "whisper" in describing these stones, I'm simply shoving them to the very background from which I am trying to rescue them!

This morning, as I was reviewing some recent posts to Levi Bryant's blog Larval Subjects, I stumbled upon this marvelous defense of the use of anthropomorphism when writing about objects:

These anthropomorphisms– rife also in evolutionary theory, sociology, and Marxist thought –are not intended to suggest that things really have aims and purposes, but merely to draw attention to the contributions that nonhuman things make in the world and to us. They are designed to break the bad anthropocentric habit of treating nonhumans as passive stuffs upon which we project meanings and which merely obstruct us.

Thank you Levi Bryant. Perhaps I will cite your blog early in my essay so future reviewers won't be so jarred when my stones start shouting.